Eight Ways to Cheat Inspiration and Just Write
I used to sit and wait for inspiration to come to me. When she came, I would jump out of any activity I was a part of and dive into the song she dangled in front of me. I would pull over the car even if I was treading on the edge of timeliness for a gig. I would turn off the burners and stop making dinner. I remember one moment, when Anthony da Costa sent me his new album before anyone else had heard it. I turned it off mid-album, and wrote two whole songs because I was so incredibly inspired by his music. I was on the floor of my future husband’s apartment writing at 1 a.m. because that’s what inspiration told me to do.
It was a romantic lifestyle I got to lead for basically my entire 20s. Writing was higher in the paradigm of needs than just about anything else. But, just like most things we do in our 20s, for me, it was not to last.
Now as a mother, a wife, and keeper of my own home, inspiration doesn’t hold the same sway. I hear her whisper sometimes and fervently type into my phone, but I can’t give her the time she deserves. That doesn’t mean that I don’t write, it just means I don’t get to be precious about it. No longer do I sit at coffee shops, secretly pouring from a flask into my mug, dreaming of how Hemingway might say it. Now, while wiping dish soap from my hands and brushing the cookie crumbs from my brow, I dictate to Siri my deepest quandaries.
So here are a few of my tricks to keeping the bitch goddess that is called Inspiration from leaving me completely:
- Be not afraid of the tiny bits. They’re your very own Parts Department. Keeping a note or a section of your journal full of your best one-liners is a great way to fill a gap in a song or expound on that one sentence, and create a whole piece when the lightning isn’t striking.
- Steal. Open a book to a random page and steal a metaphor, a word, or a sentence to make a full song. Write a song in the rhythm of an already famous song. Stealing is the highest form of flattery in writing. Change a few things and make it your own. Where do you think Bob Dylan started?
- Have a couple hours off but nothing to say? Do a course in character study. Go to a coffee shop or a grocery store or a bus stop and imagine what each person had for breakfast, what they said to their lover, what they yelled to their employees. It’s a fun way to spend some time and work that muscle.
- Write a country song. Underground songwriting legend Jack Hardy wrote a song a week for 30-some-odd years. He said that when he was stuck, he wrote a country song because they’re easy. Three chords and the truth is all you need. (Plus maybe a minor 6 chord in the bridge.)
- Love something. Listen to an old record you love, or a new record that somebody else loves. Watch an artist you love on YouTube. I am always inspired by the work of my friends and comrades in song. Every time I get to go to a show, I end up writing. Get in their vibe and write a song like one of theirs.
- Read a novel, even a few pages a day if that’s all you have time for. Cormac McCarthy. Barbara Kingsolver. John Irving, for chrissakes.
- Phone a friend. Co-writing is the new lonely poet. It’s cool, it’s hip, it’s fun! You can write a song with your neighbor, your best friend, or your mom. You can do it while eating pizza and drinking wine. Sometimes a different perspective is all you need to finish a piece that’s been nagging you forever, or create something totally out of your comfort zone.
- Be kind to yourself. If you aren’t writing all that much right now, don’t be upset with yourself. My rule of thumb: “If I wouldn’t say this to my kid, I have no business saying it to myself.” If you write best under duress, set a deadline and be accountable to a friend, but always speak to yourself with love and compassion.